One mama described her husband’s responses to her struggle with postpartum depression and anxiety as angry, impatient, and mean. He made jokes, he scoffed; he told her to get over it.
Another mama piped in, “Me too, it’s the hardest part.”
This conversation brought me back to a comment on one of our blog posts about partners supporting mothers as they endure one of the most traumatizing and exhausting experiences of their lives. This partner explained very honestly how fed up he was. He detailed his wife’s erratic unpredictable behavior. He described feeling alone and fed up and like he could never do anything right. He stated quite bluntly that if he’s being truly honest, he doesn’t believe a person can’t help it. He doesn’t understand why we have to call it an illness. He wanted his wife to make a decision to overcome and then get over it. He wanted his wife to stop blaming him. He wanted her to stop making “excuses” for hurtful behavior.
If PPA or PPD or any other postpartum mental health issues are causing tension and strain in your relationship with your spouse/partner/significant other… you are so very much not alone.
When I was going through it, I could not stand to be touched. I could not stand to make eye contact. And it was as if I was always sure, ahead of time, that the father of my child(ren) was about to screw up. Then when he did the next thing, whatever thing, wrong in my eyes, I pounced. He could not win. He could not understand.
He quietly shrunk. He obediently did everything I asked of him, a bit like a scared child. I’m not proud of this. He still could not get anything right. He could not do enough. He helped with all aspects of baby care, got up in the night, worked full-time, helped with cleaning and laundry, and still it was not enough. I was the suffering one, and I was making him pay. Underneath my angry erratic reactions, I felt horrible for making him feel horrible. I could not stop.
I will probably never understand the depths we go, psychologically. But I know we can come back.
I will probably never understand exactly why so many relationships end up in this cycle of blame and shame while we are already facing such an ugly mental health monster to overcome.
It is not you. It’s the monster.
So what do we do? What do they do?
If a partner is being unsupportive, they are tired of something they don’t understand. And maybe some of them do not have the ability to educate themselves and shut down their judgments. That’s so painful, but it is NOT about you. It is not about who you are or how worthy you are. If someone in your life, especially someone that close to you, cannot attempt to learn WHY you can’t get up, why you are so sad or angry or unaffectionate, etc., that is not your fault.
If that person ends up believing that you are just not trying hard enough, they are wrong.
When your partner is unsupportive, and won’t go to counseling with you to get the feedback from a professional that would educate them, you are left to keep your chin up, which is really hard to do when you can’t function the way you wish you could in any way.
This means YOU need more counseling and more support from someone other than your partner than ever before. There is no shame in needing that. Remember to think of yourself as a person healing from an illness or a terrible body trauma like a car accident. This is the same. It takes time and help.
With more counseling, with a good practitioner that knows how to lead you, you will find your way to confidence, to not looking for your worth in another person, to not trying to be affirmed by anyone other than YOU. This will be a gift for the rest of your life. It does not feel like it now, but I promise you that if you find your way to the depths of your strength aside from what anyone thinks with their messy incorrect brains, you will find a freedom to carry forward for the rest of your life.
That is a miracle that comes packaged as something ugly. That is grace.
Maybe someday your partner will get it. Maybe they will watch you walk through recovery and they will be humbled by the person that comes through the other side. Maybe they won’t. This is not in your control. Let it go.
This is a dark time and it is hard on everyone. Can two people survive it? Yes. Do some fail? Yes. You are on your own path, and you can certainly find a way to trust yourself and your partner again, as you both heal.
But if your partner has become verbally and/or emotionally abusive in response to your pain, or if you are not sure what you are experiencing is abuse, talk to a professional. Let them help you see things clearly. Let them help you make decisions about what is best for your family. This is not a time to make big decisions alone.
What I tell partners all the time is this:
You may not ever fully understand what is happening to your partner while she struggles, and you are not required to fully understand. BUT, you are required to love her unconditionally.
That doesn’t mean partners should be doormats, receiving all the negative energy that comes from this illness. But if you are getting help and allowing time to heal you, patience is required and trust, though hard to find, needs to be fought for within both of you. Both people need to fight for hope, and to remember that there is so much good still there, rising up, to begin again.